Daughters of divorce, sons of marriage

Why do parents of girls seem to split up more often?

September 09, 2010|Susan Reimer

"My son's my son till he hath got him a wife. But my daughter's my daughter all the days of her life."

Mothers of sons or daughters have heard that proverb, and lived to see it come true.

As a matter of fact, my husband and I, as part of our exit strategies, were expecting that our daughter Jessie would be the child to wipe the drool from our chins, while Joe would simply breeze into town, to great fanfare, for a brief visit once a year.

That plan went up in smoke when Jessie sort of, um, left me at the hospital emergency room so she wouldn't miss a new installment of the TV series "True Blood." (To be fair, she handed my heavily sedated self off to her father, who arrived in response to her frantic phone calls: "Dad, it's almost 9 o'clock!")

Lisa Belkin, who writes the Motherlode blog for The New York Times, and Notre Dame psychology professor Anita E. Kelly, writing on the Psychology Today website, have revived this conversation on the relative merits of sons and daughters with new speculation on why it is that parents of girls divorce more often than parents of boys.

A couple of economists, Gordon Dahl of the University of Rochester and Enrico Moretti at UCLA, identified the gap in 2003 and made the point that it increases as you add more girls or more boys to the relationship.

Parents of a daughter were 5 percent more likely to divorce and the parents of three girls were 10 percent more likely to split up, compared with the parents of three boys.

They also reported that unmarried couples were more likely to marry if they learned their unborn child would be a boy.

The conclusion reached at the time was that boys are an asset in a marriage and girls are not. Therefore, men might work harder at making a marriage work if they had sons.

Preofessor Kelly, Belkin noted on her blog, turned the argument on its head. Since 73 percent of divorces are initiated by wives, shouldn't the question be, "Why are mothers of daughters divorcing more than mothers of sons?"

Kelly postulates that since sons add to the household workload while daughters decrease it, and since daughters instinctively "offer more and better social support" than sons (ain't it the truth) and since humans crave company and fear loneliness, the mother of daughters has not only more motivation but a more secure future if she ends the marriage.

Sounds about right to me. And, apparently, to my husband, who has declared that not only does my daughter not need to pay rent while living with us, he will pay her to stay.

I confess he is right to take this stand. She is a beautiful copper-haired butterfly that flits happily through our kitchen and our days, a fact that never shows up in those fancy studies and reports.

But it looks like we are going to have to rethink the whole bedpan scenario.


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